Monday, 21 October 2013
Storing up treasures for myself
For our devotional reading and reflection this morning [Monday 21 October 2013], I have chosen the Gospel reading provided for a celebration of the Eucharist today in the Calendar of the Church of Ireland:
Luke 12: 13-21
13 Εἶπεν δέ τις ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, εἰπὲ τῷ ἀδελφῷ μου μερίσασθαι μετ' ἐμοῦ τὴν κληρονομίαν. 14 ὁδὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἄνθρωπε, τίς με κατέστησεν κριτὴν ἢ μεριστὴν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς; 15 εἶπεν δὲπρὸς αὐτούς, Ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε ἀπὸ πάσης πλεονεξίας, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν τῷπερισσεύειν τινὶ ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ. 16 Εἶπεν δὲ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς λέγων, Ἀνθρώπου τινὸς πλουσίου εὐφόρησεν ἡ χώρα. 17 καὶ διελογίζετο ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχω ποῦ συνάξω τοὺς καρπούς μου; 18 καὶ εἶπεν, Τοῦτο ποιήσω: καθελῶ μου τὰς ἀποθήκας καὶ μείζονας οἰκοδομήσω, καὶ συνάξω ἐκεῖ πάντα τὸν σῖτον καὶ τὰ ἀγαθά μου, 19 καὶ ἐρῶ τῇ ψυχῇ μου, Ψυχή, ἔχεις πολλὰ ἀγαθὰ κείμενα εἰς ἔτη πολλά: ἀναπαύου, φάγε, πίε, εὐφραίνου. 20 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ θεός, Ἄφρων, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ τὴν ψυχήν σου ἀπαιτοῦσιν ἀπὸ σοῦ: ἃ δὲ ἡτοίμασας, τίνι ἔσται; 21 οὕτως ὁ θησαυρίζων ἑαυτῷ καὶ μὴ εἰς θεὸν πλουτῶν.
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?”18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
This is also the Gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary this year for Sunday 4 August 2013, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity.
I understand why the man in this reading does many of the things he does.
He has a bumper crop one year, and not enough room to store it. Was he to leave what he could not store to rot in the fields?
It would have been wrong for this man to leave the surplus food to rot in the fields because he failed to have the foresight to build larger barns to store the surplus grain.
Surplus food is the foundation of economics … and makes generosity, charity and care for the impoverished possible.
The people who first heard this parable would have recalled so many images in the Old Testament of the benefits of producing surplus food, from Joseph and the famine in Egypt to Ruth and Naomi gleaning in the corners of the field.
They would have thought of God’s generosity in providing extra food in times of need, like the manna in the wilderness.
The Prophet Hosea reminds the people, in the Old Testament reading provided for that same Sunday morning that God is the God who can say throughout their history: “I bent down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11: 4).
This is the language of Christ when he feeds the hungry multitude in the wilderness, multiplying five loaves and two fish.
This Gospel reading offers the abundance and generosity of God’s provision as a sign of God’s love, for us as individuals and for all around us.
The rich man – labelled in the headings in some Gospel translations as “the Rich Fool” – is not deemed to be foolish, nor is he faulted, for being an innovative farmer, for storing up his crops, for building larger barns, not even condemned for being rich.
He condemns himself for thinking that all that matters in life is my own pleasure and personal satisfaction.
This man thinks not of his needs, but of his own pleasures. He never reaches out to the people around him who could benefit from his business acumen or from his charitable generosity.
In failing to take account of God and of the needs of others, he fails to realise his own true needs; he is spiritually dead.
But if he has stopped speaking to God, God has not stopped speaking to him. And God tells this man in a dream that night that this man is spiritually dead, that his life is being demanded of him.
Yet we never hear how he responds, we never hear whether he dies. The story ends just there.
Did he die of fright?
Did he die after drinking too much?
Did he wake up and carry on regardless?
Or, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, did he wake up and realise his folly, and embrace the joys of the Incarnation?
I am challenged not to pass judgment on the Rich Man. Instead, Christ challenges me, in the first part of this reading, to put myself in the place of this man.
If I have got things wrong up to now, there is still a chance to get things right … with God, with myself, with others.
What am I storing up for myself that would be of more benefit to others now than to me in another few years’ time?
What am I clinging on to so that it threatens to bring me spiritual death: wealth, prejudice, social comforts, arrogance, curmudgeonly grumpiness, the stereotyping and marginalising of others that protects me against my own insecurity?
Where and which are the barns in my own heart that I need to tear down so that others may not only have life but have life to the full?
The Collect of the day for that Sunday when this was the gospel reading prays:
Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This reflection was shared at an academic staff meeting in the institute on 21 October 2013.